James V. Arness


Posted: Sunday, February 26, 2006


  James V. Arness

James V. Arness

Longtime North Kenai resident James V. Arness died Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2006, at Central Peninsula General Hospital in Soldotna.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Monday, Feb. 27, at the Kenai Merit Inn.

Mr. Arness was born in Seattle in 1922. As a child he was fascinated by the ocean-going freighters and the ships harbored along the bay where he and his nine brothers and sisters played.

His love of the sea began when he became the owner of a skiff he and his brothers fixed to row around the bay. From then on, everything in his life revolved around the oceans and waterways of the Pacific Northwest.

In 1942, during World War II, he left high school to join the U.S. Army and was stationed in Seward, where he spent his first winter running a supply skiff in Resurrection Bay. It wasn’t long before he captained a power barge traveling from Seward to Cold Bay and out to the tip of the Aleutian Islands.

On one of these trips, he landed his barge on the shores of Unga Island and met Peggy Petersen, whom he married in 1945. They eventually moved to the Kenai Peninsula, where they homesteaded in North Kenai.

From 1946 to 1947, Mr. Arness ran a supply boat from Anchorage to Kodiak, making all of the Cook Inlet stops along the way. He was one of the first salmon drifters in the region in the late 1940s.

In 1947, their first son, James Allan, was born and in 1951, Joseph Conrad was born. Mr. Arness bulldozed land, built softball fields and helped start Kenai Little League. Clearing more land, he built a go-cart track so his sons and their friends could race. In the early 1950s, he started a Cub Scout troop, and in 1968 he secured uniforms and bleachers for the current Kenai Central High School football field so his son Joe could be a part of the first football team.

In the early 1960s, Mr. Arness recognized the need for a dock on Cook Inlet. An inventor at heart, he began what is known as “Arnessification,” a process of making something out of nothing. He later sunk three U.S. World War II Liberty ships to enlarge the dock that became known as Arness Terminal, the major supply route for the oil companies operating offshore.

In the early 1970s, he opened the first SkiDoo snowmachine dealership on the peninsula, started races and eventually took the machines by helicopter to Harding Ice Field for people to rent and ride.

He served the community in other aspects, as well, as a member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and president of the Kenai Civic League, the first governing body of Kenai. During his tenure on the assembly, Mr. Arness established the North Kenai service area and originated the plan to build the Nikiski pool, personally working on its construction.

In 1982, at 60, Mr. Arness turned to commercial setnetting at the mouth of the Kasilof River, where he fished with his son until 2004. Not one to turn down a chance to be on a boat, he commercial fished for halibut during last season on Resurrection Bay with friend Tom Tomrdle.

“He will always be remembered as an honest and unpretentious self-made man who loved to tell stories, recite poetry and make people laugh with his jokes and famous one liners such as, ‘Wait ’til the wind shifts’ and ‘Later,’” his family said.

Mr. Arness is survived by his wife of 60 years, Peggy; sons, James and his wife, Dorothy, and Joe; granddaughters, Jessica and Rebecca and their mother, Barbara; granddaughters, Jennifer and Melissa and their mother, Lila; grandsons, James and Jake and their mother Mary, and Jake’s wife Rebecca; great-grandson, Aiden; and sister, Joan McDaniel of Seattle.

Donations may be made to the Nikiski Fire Department or the Central Peninsula General Hospital Emergency Room.

Arrangements were made by Peninsula Memorial Chapel in Kenai.

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